The Temple of the Jade Mountain, or Den Ngoc Son, is one of Hanoi’s most visited cultural attractions. Accessed by a brightly painted red wooden bridge, the temple sits atop the largest island in Hoan Kiem Lake and is an oasis of calm, especially early in the morning. Wondering around this ancient construction amongst leafy green trees is a highlight of any trip to Hanoi, but the temple is filled with symbolism and knowledge of this makes any visit all the more rewarding. So as you gaze down at The Temple of the Jade Mountain while enjoying a delicious meal at Cau Go Restaurant, rest assured that you know exactly what this enigmatic temple is all about.
The founding date of the temple is somewhat mysterious but could stretch as far back as the 16th Century, when Mandarins used to go boating on the serene lake. Throughout its history, the temple has featured as a Buddhist Pagoda, a site to celebrate the ancient Chinese warrior Quan Cong, and a temple dedicated to the spirits of literature. The temple is now dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, a national hero of Vietnam who repelled no less than three Mongol invasions. The temple is also associated celebrated poet Nguyen Van Sieu, who assumed responsibility for extensive repairs and additions to the temple in the 19th Century.
The temple consists of several gates. Two large red Chinese characters are written on the first gate for Happiness on the right, and Prosperity on the left. Inside this gate is the Pen Tower, or Thap But, a ten-meter high stone structure whose tip resembles a writing brush. The mountain represents a good foundation, or the earth, and the characters on the tower say “Writing on the clear blue sky”. This represents the importance of truth and clarity.
The second gate is surrounded by Taoist symbols. On the left is a tiger and on the right is a Vietnamese dragon, which symbolize power and stability and a phoenix can also be found to symbolize longevity. Above the third gate, the last one before crossing the bridge, is a large stone representing an ink pot to partner with the Pen Tower, as well as bats that symbolize happiness.
The temple itself is reached by crossing the red-painted wooden bridge called The Huc, or ‘Rising Sun’. The name reflects that the wooden bridge is an ideal place to watch the sunrise. After crossing the bridge, we come to the fourth gate, which is surrounded by typical Taoist symbols of protection. The dragon-horse, or long ma, is on the right carrying a yin yang mirror to send back evil spirits.
Ngoc Son Temple exemplifies the harmony of Taoist feng shui. It is surrounded by water, which directs energy to the temple and several viewpoints face the sunrise. Ngoc Son is certainly worth visiting to see the intricate details of the temple, but the temple should also be enjoyed from above accompanied by a delicious meal at Cau Go Restaurant. The top floor terrace makes for the perfect spot to see the temple.